After working two swing shifts in a row, along with the lack of sleep from the night before, Justin was grateful that he finally managed a full nine hours of uninterrupted sleep when he eventually stumbled into his loft in the early hours of Monday morning. He was convinced that only insomniacs like himself could truly appreciate the deliciousness of a full night's sleep. Those who regularly fell to sleep without problems and who weren't awakened night after night with terrifying nightmares, would never know exactly how good they really had it.
The tired busboy languidly rolled out of bed when he finally awoke at around eleven am, quickly scarffed down 2 bowls of Cheerios and a slightly over-ripe banana for breakfast/lunch and then luxuriated in an extra-long shower. Once fed, bathed and dressed, he retired to the couch, prepared to laze the afternoon away in front of the television. Flipping through the channels, he happened upon a rerun of 'Dirty Dancing' and was delighted with the prospect of ogling Patrick Swayze for a solid two hours (even if it was at least the eleventh time he'd watched the movie).
However, despite all the rest he'd gotten that morning, his eyelids began to droop before the movie was even half over. Since he didn't have to work that night, and already had a pretty good idea how the film ended, Justin decided to switch off the T.V. completely and settle in for a completely guilt-free nap.
No one knew who the man was, at least not until much later. He just showed up, virtually out of nowhere, the night of the St. James' Academy Senior Prom. Justin didn't know who he was either - he couldn't actually remember anything about that night, though. He only got flashes - pictures that materialized dimly against the inside of his closed eyelids. The images he had of the man were equally vague - just a tall form clad in black with dark hair and hazy features. Justin knew he knew the man, though. He just couldn't remember how.
The flashes of memory started to come at him more rapidly now. A flash of a brightly lit room with silver balloons strewn across the floor. A flash of lights dizzily spinning around his body while warm, strong arms wrapped themselves around his back. A flash without an image, just a smell - sweat, musk, cologne, and something else he couldn't name but which felt comforting somehow. Then a flash of blinding white light as if from an explosion, but without any sound - there was never any sound, ever, just silence. A flash of jumbled colors - black with a slash of brilliant white, a blur of metallic silver and then gushing quantities of carnelian red melting over everything and obliterating all. Finally, a flash of dim light, rent repeatedly by other flashes of red and white and, in the distance, a black clad form lying on a sea of flat, cold grey.
The last image was always the most vivid and often the only one he would remember when he awoke. That image always came with a stabbing sense of grief, paralyzing fear, and the overwhelming emptiness of loss. Justin knew that when this last image appeared, the screaming would start. If he was alone, the screaming would go on and on - for how long, he had no idea - until at some point the outside world would once again slowly materialize in front of him and Justin would realize the screaming was coming from him.
The doctors called them, 'Night Terrors', even though they didn't necessarily happen at night.
All Justin knew was that it would take him a seemingly endless time to calm down enough to stop the screaming and an even longer time to stop his limbs from shaking sufficiently to allow for movement. Then he would crawl to wherever his meds were, down two capsules, and huddle on the floor wherever he'd finally ended up until the drugs kicked in. Eventually, Justin would clean himself up, find a clock to try and determine how much time he'd actually lost and vow, once again, to never let himself fall asleep.
This time, when Justin was finally able to view his surroundings, he noted it was already 10:30 pm. 'I've lost more than 5 hours?' he thought incredulously. That made it one of the worst episodes he'd ever had. Luckily these 'incidents' had become less frequent over time. Frankly, he couldn't imagine how he would survive if they ever became more frequent.
As he became more aware of his body and surroundings, he realized his right hand was clamped over his left wrist so tightly that he'd cut off the blood flow to his other hand. The skin on his wrist was chafed and already showing bruising. Why had he done that to himself? Absently, he noted the shell bracelet was not on his left wrist. Where had it gone? 'Oh yeah. I took it off when I showered this morning. I guess I forgot to put it back on,' he mused. He felt a tangible sense of loss at the absence of the now familiar bracelet.
By 11:00 pm, Justin was actually able to push himself up off the bathroom floor. He stripped off his clothes, walked on shaky legs into the shower stall, turned on the water as hot as he could possibly stand it, and then slumped down to the floor, letting the water stream over his skin. By the time the hot water finally ran out, Justin had recovered sufficiently to dress and head to the kitchen for sustenance. Then, he grabbed his sandwich, rummaged through one of the kitchen drawers for an old deck of playing cards, and carried both over to the dining room table. The young man settled into his chair, hoping to stave off sleep with a marathon session of solitaire.